“It is really important for people to understand the impression that an office makes on clients and employees,’’ says Paulina Raguz Macksoud, one of the managing directors of Palacina Interiors.
We are seated on a plush grey sofa in their impressive showroom just off Dennis Pritt Road in Kilimani, Nairobi.
“In the past, people invested in real estate development while interior decor was always neglected. If people focused on it, that could be such a differentiating factor in getting better returns on homes or hotels.”
Paulina adds that a five-star and three-star hotel might look similar but it is how the interiors are finished that determines if you will charge $200 or $500 a night.
Opened in 2006, Palacina is a family business and in addition to Palacina Interiors, they also own Palacina Residence & Suites as well as hotels in Belgium, Zanzibar and the US.
“I always wanted to be a hotelier and while in university, developed a passion for interior design. My husband, sister, parents and I opened a hotel and when we looked around, we realised there was very little in terms of furniture and dècor in Nairobi at the time,” says Paulina.
“While sourcing for our hotels, we found very beautiful products and thought we should bring them to Nairobi. Starting with only one room, we expanded to a full showroom, as well as to malls like Yaya, The Hub and Westgate.”
The store today sources from the manufacturers who supply some of finest brands in the world.
From sofas to their leather collection, accessories and even lighting, everything is sourced from Asia, US and Europe, while some is produced locally.
At the store, there’s a unique aesthetic you notice from the artwork collection, because Kenya is a melting pot with African art and handicraft, Indian embroidery and the more traditional British influence.
“Being a design firm, we try to manufacture here as much as possible and also look at different ways to finish furniture. If you look at the silver lamps, for instance, it has a silver foil finish. We import the foil and we can use that to finish items manufactured locally.”
Palacina Interiors also supports various Kenyan initiatives such as Kenana Knitters in Nanyuki.
“They do amazing stuffed animals. There is also another group of women that hand-make beautiful cards from recycled paper and we have developed our own range with them. I do the designs, they paint and do beautiful collages. I sell them in our shop in Vermont in the US, and we also sell the stuffed animals internationally to support the group,” explains Paulina.
She has spent most of her life in Kenya, going to schools like Loreto Convent Msongari and Hillcrest School before heading to Cornell University in Upstate New York, an institution said to have one of the best hotel management programmes in the world.
Paulina however states that she is actually Swedish and first came to Kenya at only 11 months old. Her father started a safari company bringing tourists from Scandinavia, and her parents first came here in 1969.
“We do everything together,” she says of their work dynamic.
“We discuss, argue and make decisions together. My focus is now on Palacina Interiors and we’re now getting bigger projects which require more of my time, but I enjoy it.”
They are currently working on a boutique hotel in Muthaiga which is now in its design phase and should be ready in six to eight months.
Palacina Interiors designs residences, corporate spaces, hotels, camps and lodges.
“It is always difficult to run things on this scale but we have a really amazing team . You can’t do it without relying on people around you to help make things great,’’ she says.
It’s not really all work and no play because she enjoys playing tennis in her downtime and was ranked as a junior in Kenya and also played for her university.
“There’s a sense of well-being when you come into your home and it looks the way you want it to, and you’re comfortable and at peace there. Our leather is very weathered, looks like your grandad left it to you. It has character,” Paulina says.